The impact of Open Access Publishing on scientific research

Scientists often rue the fact that scientific research studies have limited viewership due to the high subscription charges of journals. As the world moves from the print to the digital medium, science policy makers have been advocating “Science should be freely available to the common man”.

Open Access Model of Scientific Publishing

With this perspective, the Open Access model of Publishing has changed the dynamics of the industry. In the Open Access model, the author usually pays a hefty fee to the publisher to make the article freely accessible to all through web portals.

As the journals are digitized, the cost associated with print publication is mitigated. So, how much does the author really need to pay to get their work published in an Open Access Journal? PLOS is the most noted Open Access Journal Publisher whose high costs are primarily associated with technology and labor. In a PLOS One, an author has to pay usually $ 1350 for publication. In another Open Access journal PeerJ, authors are charged a one-time fee of 299$ and they can publish unlimited papers in the same journal.

Highly selective Open Access Journals of BioMed Central and PLOS One stipulate a fee of $2700 to $2900 from authors intending to publish their work. According to a recent survey by researchers at the University of Helsinki and the University of Michigan, Open Access Journal publishing is a grey area with journals charging anything between 8$ to $3900.

According to a leading source working at Hindawi Publishing, an Open Access Journal Publisher in Cairo, Egypt, the cost of publishing a single article turned out to be just 290$ with successful publication of 22, 000 articles in a single year. On the other hand, the marketing source of PeerJ concedes that the cost of publishing an article in their journal is about hundred dollars.

All editors and reviewers working for an Open Access Publishing house are voluntary workers who are NOT paid. The estimated cost of operation for The Open Library of Humanities, a non-profit organization that publishes seven peer reviewed journals in the Open Access model, is approximately $ 3,20,000. There are certain “free journals of open access” but the cost of operation is borne out from the grants received by a university and the staff is primarily volunteers. Costs are associated with everything related to online publishing in an open access model.

Sustainability of Open Access Journals

The print format of subscription journals is lobbied by traditional publishers who argue that Open Access Publishing is sacrificing the quality of science at the cost of “free dissemination to the public”. Elsevier has more than 2000 journals with subscription or hybrid model of publishing, and it earned a revenue of $1.1 billion in the year 2010. Its profit margins have been about 36 % in the same period.

Open Access Publishers seek to cover the costs and any additional money is further used as a reservoir to overcome unforeseen costs. PLOS keeps some profit margin on the journals, but they are not bound like subscription journals to share their profits with shareholders. The primary source of funding to Open Access Publishers is through university grants and the fees charged to authors for “article-processing.”

In the subscription model, the universities sign Non-Disclosure Agreements before making bulk subscriptions of journals. In the Open Access model, the author is required to pay an appreciable amount to initiate the publication process and make it available for free viewership. At the Open Library of Humanities, the non-profit organization sustains not only on grants from external foundations but also on the fees paid by libraries availing its work. The money provided by libraries is more like a form of endorsement to the novel process.

As of 2013, there are 8847 Open Access journals enlisted in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). This number has risen sharply within 5 years from being only 5000 in 2009. According to PLOS, open access model is completely flourishing with 12% of peer reviewed articles of STEM disciplines being published in Open Access Journals. The NIH drafted a policy mentioning that the results of scientific studies would be freely available on the internet within one year of its publication.

The lure of subscription model still exists due to “high-impact factor” of these journals

Although the real cost of publishing is low and peer reviewers are not paid for their work of academic editing even in subscription journals, it’s the “high impact factor” that attracts researchers to the subscription model. For example, the impact factor of subscription journal Science is 34.661, whereas the impact factor of PLOS One, the most noted Open Access Journal, is just 3.234.

With most universities not considering new scientists whose publications are in journals with impact factor < 5, the death knell on the research career of budding scientists discourages them from pursuing Open Access Movement. Open Access Journals are favored by seasoned scientists at this juncture propagating a shift in science policy.

Changes in the scientific publishing industry

Today, most subscription journals are drifting toward the hybrid model, which is an offshoot of open access publishing. Here, authors pay a large sum of money to the subscription journal to make it open access. For example, the subscription journal Cell presented its hybrid journal Cell Reports in 2014. The authors are charged 5000 $ to make their work freely accessible to all. With the Open Access movement, the role of traditional scientific publishers is being mitigated to that of middlemen.


The impact of Open Access in scientific publishing can be quantified with the latest data in sales volume: the subscription model of journals was previously 100 billion dollar industry in terms of revenue. As of 2010, the Open Access model of publishing has eaten 3% of its market share. Open Access model is now worth 100 million dollar in revenue. This is because there is a drift from print to internet (digital media). As of 2010, the print v/s digital media platform for scientific papers stands at 40:60 ratio.

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